WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.-- Families who have experienced a pregnancy loss or death of an infant are definitely not alone. As many as one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage or early infant death. Those who have lost a baby this way say finding support and peace is really hard to come by. A West Palm Beach couple, Russell and Jessica Gaddie, learned that the hard way and they are now working to change that in Palm Beach County.
“To have a child is deciding to forever have your heart go walking outside of your body,” is a well-known saying. The Gaddies carry their son's heartbeat with them always. But, it’s a recording inside a stuffed bear that they bring with them every time they visit him at the cemetery. After 20 years of marriage, infertility, a miscarriage and two adoptions, the Gaddies were blessed with a baby. But at 20 weeks, Wilson Glenn Gaddie was born still in August 2017.
“We held our baby, and it was the most amazing thing to hold him, but it was so bittersweet because we knew we had to let him go,” said Jessica Gaddie.
The Gaddies were overcome with grief and searched everywhere for any kind of group support. They ended up investing a lot of money in a private therapist.
“The beginning was really difficult. I didn’t know how to handle it. We looked for groups here, support groups, we called the hospitals to see if anybody knew of a support group, nobody knew,” said Jessica.
The Gaddies remained desperate to connect with people feeling the same sorrow they were, especially as milestones approached. While searching online one day, they came across a group called Mommies Enduring Neonatal Death, or M.E.N.D. The group is a Christian, non-profit organization that reaches out to families who have suffered the loss of a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth or early infant death. It was founded in 1996 by a mom in Texas, Rebekah Mitchell, one year after the stillbirth of her son, Jonathan Daniel.
The Gaddies immediately reached out and worked tirelessly to bring a chapter of M.E.N.D. to Palm Beach County. Now, their tragic loss has become a crusade that is helping countless local families. It is the only chapter of M.E.N.D. in Florida.
The group meets monthly and welcomes anyone who has experienced losing a baby. But their ongoing mission is providing comfort to those families in the very first hours of tragedy. They put together support boxes and bags and deliver them to hospitals. Hospital staff then has the ability to give them to patients going through a procedure following a miscarriage or after losing a baby at birth.
“Please know you are welcome to call or text us any time,” is included on a note within the package containing the Gaddies' contact information. Also inside are some self-care items, a safe place to keep any photos or memories of the baby and information pamphlets on where the families can turn to get help, support and counseling. The Gaddies brought their first batch of boxes to hospitals on Wilson’s first heavenly birthday in August. And ever since, local hospitals have been helping connect families to the Gaddies.
“Infant loss in general, whether it's miscarriage, fetal demise, it’s just something we don’t talk about enough in our society as a whole. It’s very hush, hush. So as far as finding support groups or being a part of a community, it’s just so hard to find. So when we give them these M.E.N.D. boxes, they have resources right at their fingertips,” said Jaime Arnold, a labor and deliver nurse at Jupiter Medical Center.
Arnold says she has had patients received a box from M.E.N.D. before and they were very appreciative.
“As a healthcare provider, we’re in this very unique position, where we have something we can offer them. And it’s not only going to help them, and brings relief and support to them, but it also helps us by having the tools to help them. You know it’s such an emotional thing for us as well,” she said.
Christine Mori was five months pregnant when she went into labor and lost her baby.
“It meant so much to have that box. Because I wasn’t leaving empty handed. I was actually leaving with a memory of him and I wouldn’t have done that for myself. You try to find way to try to memorize your baby but there isn’t enough. You’re always looking for more. So that stays with his little urn on our dresser,” Mori said.
It’s an initial gift that can turn into a lifetime lifeline connecting those left with a huge hole in their hearts and only photos of tiny footprints in their hands.
“It’s not just, 'okay, let me move on and pretend like my baby never existed.' No we have to honor our babies and that’s what M.E.N.D does for us. It allows us to do that,” said Mori.
If you are looking for ways to join or contact M.E.N.D., you can find more information about the group here. You can connect with the local chapter through their Facebook page.